Showing posts with label conservation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conservation. Show all posts

July 21, 2017

Restoring All Things: God's Audacious Hiring Plan at the Museum of the Bible

Long before the news broke about a US Civil Complaint requiring forfeiture of thousands of cuneiform tablets and clay bullae, or Egypt's more recent concern about its trafficked papyrus, the Museum of the Bible's decision-making regarding who to hire and for what purpose was a bit off center.

In 2015,  I created a list of known persons who had identified themselves as Museum of the Bible employees using available open source data out of growing concern for their collection practices.  At that time, only a limited number of the individuals had any formal museum or curatorial background, and the few that did were frequently at the nascent stage of their professional careers.  None of those I documented listed anything in their backgrounds that would have attested to having had experience in ethical collection management. 

 

Additionally, only one employee was listed as a conservator/restorer.  Given the size of the future museum, and its burgeoning collection, one would assume that personnel with experience in both these important skillsets would have been required and should have been a top priority for a museum with a growing and extensive collection of objects and manuscripts.

Instead, the restorer of record had no formal conservation training, and listed his university degrees as having a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Journalism. One curator of Cuneiform tablets had no museum experience at all and listed his former posting as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative. Another curator, of Medieval Manuscripts, had been a summer intern at the Smithsonian.

Revisiting this list, to see who may have come and who may have gone since the first list was compiled, I also came across two newish job announcements.  The first is for a registrar, and includes some normal registrar duties as well as a hodgepodge of other duties:


The second job posting however was extremely specific and was not your run of the mill typical museum vacancy.  It seemed the Museum of the Bible was looking for an Intelligence & Investigations Specialist, "to obtain and evaluate intelligence concerning threat information and conduct investigations into possible illegal activity against Museum of the Bible (MOTB), to ensure the security and safety of MOTB assets and interests."


While museums and their museum security risk managers routinely look at threat levels as part of their wider risk assessments, this job description seems to be a lot more specific.

  • Conduct predictive threat analysis to support domestic and international Executive Protection operations for VIPs, designated individuals, and MOTB staff as directed.

But enough on potential new hires.  Filing away those that have worked for the Museum of the Bible in the past and have subsequently left the Green's museum behind,  I thought I would also try to see where former collaborator Dr. Scott Carroll has been keeping himself over the last year since parting ways with the Washington DC apologists.

Instead of dissolving mummy masks in Palmolive soap...


In April of this year he also spent a bit of time at St. Andrew's Church in Hong Kong giving some inspirational talks with some of his old friends including Josh McDowell and colleague Todd Hillard.  Carroll identifies himself as the CEO of the "Inspired" exhibit, a travelling showcase of religious-themed objects where attendees are "immersed in the finest collection of biblical artifacts that had ever been in the city: Papyrus fragments, cuneiform tablets, medieval manuscripts, stunning Hebrew scrolls, and some of the most important early translations of the Bible in the world."  

Does the melody to this song sound familiar?

One of the objects in this travelling exhibition was this Taj Torah, purportedly produced in Yemen in the 17th century.

https://www.facebook.com/lhmhk/photos/a.171038406282348.48921.166677980051724/1486097368109772/?type=3&theater
While in Hong Kong Carroll also popped in for a dedication ceremony at Evangel Seminary, affiliated under the Evangelical Free Church of China, where a Torah scroll was being donated by Ken and Barbara Larson.



The Larsons, founders of the family-owned furniture chain Slumberland, have purchased Torah scrolls as apologetic tools for establishing the reliability of the word of God with the intention of giving many of them to evangelical seminaries.  

Torah's are normally retired to a Genizah, a vault, or a protected receptacle, in which holy things which are posul are kept until burial. When holy objects are no longer in use as according to Jewish law, they cannot be destroyed, but should be treated with the same respect and care allotted the deceased.


One of these, the Larson-Bethel Baghdad Torah dates predominantly to the early 17th century.


Carroll states the Torah dedicated to Evangel Seminary in these videos “comes from Eastern Europe, very likely from Germany”  and “dates to the 18th century.”


According to statements in the video, the Larson's currently list their donation count at 36. 

Carroll's next 2017 stop was Bangkok, Thailand, where he recently concluded a teaching assignment on Bible Backgrounds and Ancient Cultures in early July.   Sadly none of these religious outreach visits seemed to include any mention of the ministry of collecting ethically. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

August 11, 2013

Enez: Bulgaria - Turkey IPA Cross-Border Program Highlights Multicultural History of Castle Ruins in Northern Aegean Beach Town

Enez Castle (Acropolis) - Restored by Turkish Ministery of
Culture and the Department of Cultural Assets & Museums 
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

ENEZ, Turkey – The tiny town of Enez, with its long sandy beaches and view of the Greek mainland, has a big summer population and an even grander history hidden in the ancient ruins of its castle. Recently the Bulgaria – Turkey IPA Cross-Border Program has replaced the old Turkish signs with bilingual placards telling of the site’s history as the ancient city of “Ainos” where the river Meriç (“Hebros”) meets the sea:

Herodotus mentioned that Ainos was first founded during the 7th century B.C. by Aeois, as a colony of those Aeols, who settled North of Izmir. On the other hand, we learn from other ancient written sources, that before this period, in Ainos there were cities or villages named Poltyobria and Apsinthos, founded by Thracian tribes.

Numerous people and rulers came and left Ainos before turning it over to Ottoman rule: the Persian Kings Darius and Xerces from 513-480 BC; Macedonians in the 4th century; Romans beginning in the 2nd century; and during the final era of the Byzantine Empire, the Genoans under the sovereignty of the Gattelusi and Doria families. After the death in 1455 of the Ainos ruler Palmede (of the Dorian family), an ‘internal struggled started for the rule of the city’ and ‘when the administration stopped paying the yearly tribute to the Ottoman Empire’, the citizens ‘handed the keys to the city’ to Mehmet the Conquerer when his Navy besieged the city (Bulgaria-Turkey IPA Cross-Border Program).

This gentleman talks about Enez ruins.
An older gentleman walking the un-excavated area within the castle walls said that he came to Enez in 1948 from Bulgaria and served as a guard here. The site is open and free to the public.  The population of the town increased after the 1950 when the Balkan countries and Turkey exchanged minorities. Recently a portion of the church has been restored with columns that had lain on the ground. When the wine cellars were excavated, multiple layers of the city were discovered and excavation work ceased. Over the years, he said, the bigger pieces of cultural objects were moved to the Archaeology Museum in Edirne.

According to the signage, in the trenches within the castle (acropolis), on top of the main rock, underneath a soil layer of 7.50 m, terracotta remains that date back to the 4th and 3rd millennia BC reveal that the settlement here dates back to the chalcolithic period. On top of this layer, which reveals the earliest settlement in Enez, finds that date back to the later Greek settlement period have been unearthed.... Ainos produced grain, salt and dried fish as well as oil and wine. 

Restored decorations inside collapsed church/mosque

The remains of the building known as the Fatih Mosque used to be the local Haghia Sophia Church, one of the most important domed basilicas of the Byzantine era (dating back to the 6th, 9th or 10th centuries). It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1965 and abandoned a year later.  Restoration work has been ongoing since the Ottoman years.






Ruins of an 11th century chapel
Christian symbol in basilica ruins










July 23, 2013

Work of textile conservator Julia Brennan (ARCA '09) featured in new book on "The Turkish Ambassador's Residence and the Cultural History of Washington, D.C."

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The work of textile conservator Julia Brennan (ARCA '09) is one of the many features in the recently published book by Istanbul Kültür University, The Turkish Ambassador's Residence and the Cultural History of Washington, D.C., authored by Skip Moskey, Caroline Mesrobian Hickman, and John Edward Hasse.

Here are link's to Ms. Brennan's posts in 2011 on the Everett's House Ottoman-style wall fabrics in the ballroom and the project to conserve them.

The residence of the Turkish Ambassador in the American capital is a early 20th century mansion (1910-1915) buildt by Ohio-industrialist Edward Hamlin Everett (1851-1929) and designed by George Oakley Totten, Jr. The Turkish government purchased the home during the Great Depression and undertook a restoration of the residence between 2001 and 2007 under the direction of interior designer Aniko Gaal Schott and architect Belinda Reeder.

Mr. Skip Moskey writes on the 'intersection of politics, architecture, and social structure in the early history of Washington' and used primary research materials to write about Edward Hamlin Everett. Ms. Caroline Hickman wrote about the architect Totten and the interior decoration of the house using diplomatic records in the national Archives. John Edward Hasse documents the musical history of the residence, once the childhood home of the co-founder of Atlantic Records:
An important chapter in the history of the house was the decade between 1934 and 1944, when the sons of Ambassador and Mrs. Mehmet Münir Ertegün, Ahmet and Nesuhi, brought noted African-American musicians home for jazz sessions in the Embassy. There they broke racial barriers and enriched Washington's music scene through their passion for African-American music.
Ms. Brennan worked on the cleaning and conservation of the embroidered and appliqué silk architectural textiles that decorate the upper sections of the ballroom walls, as she describes here:
an extraordinary complex technique of appliqué of silk sateen cutouts (think matisse) on top of contrasting silk sateen ground, with each motif outlined with a cording that was stitched and glued on. The pattern, an architectural niche containing a tall bulbous 'vase' shape, alternates the red and gold silk, so the eye moves along as if following a series of decorative windows.
YouTube has a series of videos on the book launching at the Turkish residence in early July, including a discussion by Ms. Caroline Mesrobian Hickman.  

June 3, 2013

The "Other" Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis Traveling with Girl with a Pearl Earring from San Francisco to Atlanta to New York City

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait
Germanisches National
 Museum
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Thirty-four 17th century Dutch paintings accompanied Girl with a Pearl Earring in the exhibition leaving the De Young Museum in San Francisco for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (June 23 through September 29, 2013). Only 10 of those paintings will visit The Frick Collection in New York (October 22, 2013 through January 19, 2014).

Last year, a larger exhibit of 48 paintings from the Mauritshuis toured two museums in Japan: The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art (TMMA) and the Kobe City Museum.  The Mauritshuis exhibit at TMMA included a second Vermeer painting, Diana and her nymphs (now on display at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag). After the North American tour, Palazzo Fava in Bologna, Italy, will host 40 paintings from the Mauritshuis while the 17th century palace undergoes an expansion and renovation until mid-2014. More than 100 paintings from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis have traveled to the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.

Portrait of Rembrandt
(1606-1669) with a Gorget
,
Rembrandt (studio copy)
The Mauritshuis opened as a Dutch state museum on January 1, 1822 as the "Royal Cabinets of Paintings and Curiosities." The catalogue, Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, includes "The History of the Mauritshuis and Its Collection" by Lea van der Vinde:
As its new name made clear, the museum did not merely exhibit paintings, for the entire ground floor was filled with a colorful display of "rarities." The art collection hung upstairs, where the walls were covered from floor to ceiling with paintings. Both collections had been formed over the years by various stadtholders; their turbulent history spans more than four centuries.
Rachel Ruysch
Vase with Flowers
1700
Mauritshuis
Half of the paintings at the De Young Mauritshuis show had been acquired by The Hague institution in the 20th century. Provenance information in the catalogue was provided in the section describing the painting and appeared incomplete. Many of the paintings have been restored in recent years. For example, infrared reflectography in the conservation studio in 1998 showed an underdrawing on a Rembrandt painting purchased in 1768, Portrait of Rembrandt (1606-1669) with a Gorget, that indicates it is a studio copy of a self-portrait of Rembrandt at the Germanisches National Museum in Nuremberg. The last painting highlighted in the catalogue is Vase of Flowers (1700) by Rachel Ruysch,  a married woman and mother of 10 children who painted until her death at the age of 84. A recent restoration removed several old layers of varnish.

The ticket to the Mauritshuis paintings at the De Young included entrance to an adjoining exhibition of Rembrandt's (and contemporaries) etchings from the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

March 7, 2013

Wall Street Journal article highlights work of textile conservator Julia Brennan (ARCA Alum 2009)

An article in The Wall Street Journal by freelance writer Joanne Lee-Young, "A Guardian of Rare, Exotic Fabrics", highlights the work of textile conservator Julia Brennan who attended ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection in 2009.

Ms. Brennan's professional highlights include conservation work on Abraham Lincoln's coat, Babe Ruth's kimono; a 19th century Thai robe gifted by the King of Siam to the only foreign naval officer charged with leading the Royal Thai Navy; and teaching textile conservation techniques to monks in Bhutan. 

January 16, 2013

Lecture booked at the Getty Villa tonight: "Saving Herculaneum: The Challenges of Archaeological Conservation"

As of noon today, all seats are taken for the free lecture at the Getty Villa tonight: Herculaneum Conservation Project director Andrew Wallace-Hadrill will speak of the archaeological work at the ancient sister city of Pompeii.
From 1995 to 2009 [Andrew Wallace-Hadrill] served as director of the British School at Rome and is currently director of research of the faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge. An expert on the archaeology of the Vesuvian cities, he was awarded the Archaeological Institute of America's James R. Wiseman Award in 1995 for his book Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum (1994). He has written several other books, including Rome's Cultural Revolution (2008), Augustan Rome (1993), Suetonius: The Scholar and His Caesars (1985), and most recently Herculaneum: Past and Future (2011). He has held visiting fellowships at Princeton University and the J. Paul Getty Museum, and is a frequent contributor to radio and television broadcasts. 
The Herculaneum Conservation Project is funded by The Packard Humanities Institute which also supports conservation efforts of the removal of the mosaics from the ancient Roman town of Zeugma in eastern Turkey before the area was flooded for a dam.

January 12, 2013

Smithsonian Channel re-airing "The Da Vinci Detective", a documentary on Maurizo Seracini's decades long search for the artist's lost mural at Florence's town hall

The Smithsonian Channel is re-airing "The Da Vinci Detective", the story of Maurizio Seracini's controversial search for Leonardo Da Vinci's 1505 The Battle of Anghiari mural underneath a Giorgio Vasari fresco at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. (This 2006 documentary is also available on DVD.) Here in Britian's The Guardian, art blogger Jonathan Jones asked last March "Did Vasari save a Da Vinci for us?", describing Vasari's redecoration of Florence's town hall for the Medici family as a coverup to erase its republican past. However, in September, Priscilla Frank for The Huffington Post (one of many journalists that did cover the story) reported that Seracini's search for The Battle of Anghiari has been suspended.  You can read why here.

May 6, 2012

ARCA Grad Julia Brennan helps launch Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles

Julia Brennan in her Thai Ruan Ton dress outside museum.
ARCA Alum '09 Julia Brennan, a textile conservator, was one of the international consultants who helped  to develop the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in Thailand.

The institute focuses on preserving and reviving the Thai silk industry.

Here and here are two articles on the Queen's textile museum.  Brennan trained the conservation staff, helped design and set up the conservation lab, and worked with the team to treat, prepare and install more than 150 textiles for the inaugural exhibitions.

The museum will open to the public on May 9th.

November 18, 2011

Part Two: Conserving the Treasured Wall Fabrics of the Turkish Ballroom 2002-2007

Julia Brennan sewing net over damaged areas of silk
by Julia M. Brennan
ARCA Washington DC Correspondent

Part two

Atasoy describes that tent makers were divided into groups – those who sewed the tents and others who embroidered. The tent pieces were layers of fabric; the decorations, mostly floral, were cut out of fabric such as satin or silk, to shape the motif such as vase or column. They were sewn onto the backing fabric. A contour around the motif was shaped with a silk cording and sewn onto around the contours to mask the uncut edges and prevent unravelling. This is exactly how these wall fabrics were constructed; with a combination of stitching, glues, appliqués, and embroidery inside the vases. They are also pieced together; with patches inserted around arches, windows, and the stage. There were obviously plenty of pieces on site in order to exactly fit the fabrics into the finished architectural space. The patterns do not all match up – it is a patch work in many curved and small areas.

Lime encrustations and crepeline overlay from the 1960s
Another clue about the construction comes with the backing fabric, a coarse burlap fabric. This was behind all the appliqué silk. It is essentially the backing cloth. The old Ottoman tents were constructed with a taupe colored structural skeleton called ‘cengari’. This carried the weight of the embellishment and helped stabilize during constant installations. The hanging rings were sewn to this rough cloth. This system of hanging rings, (supplemented by later tacks, nails, and glue) was still evident on the Turkish Residence Ballroom textiles. The jute is part of the structure of the textiles. A linen backing had been sewn onto the back probably in the 1960’s campaign.

This was a massive project –- 515 square feet of complex and damaged textiles.

My team set up our workshop in the Residence and stayed for 11 months working, spread out on tables, and up on scaffolding as the seasons passed from blooming dogwoods, shivering cold winter bringing in our heaters, and back into spring, and the blossoming pear trees again. We vacuumed every two days just to pick up the fibers that were flying off the silks. We divided the panels up by location, documented extensively, and then systematically cleaned and repaired. Repairs had to be gross approach and not minute, due to sheer scope of project.

Once all the panels were de installed, then the architects could truly evaluate and see how damaged and porous the walls were. Since the entire house was being renovated, outside masonry work would be done to solve the leaking and stabilize the interior walls. The old crepeline overlays were removed, as well as the later linen backings. Each panel was carefully vacuumed through protective screens to remove surface soiling and dust. This also provided an opportunity to carefully examine each panel, document damage, as well as embroidery and technique.

Full panel after conservation
The most difficult challenge was cleaning. A majority of the soiling was greasy and gritty, blackened and dark stains, from leaks, coal burning heating system and city grime. Embedded into the silks and burlap, it made the fabrics brittle and dry rotted in areas. Due to the original use of glue to attach some of the appliqué and cording, a wet cleaning treatment was ruled out.

Moreover, this kind of soiling is better cleaned with solvent based applications. All the different fabrics and dyes were tested with the solvent and detergent. An extraction system was employed, pushing and extracting a petroleum-based volatile solvent combined with detergent, through each panel, section by section. Buckets of black solvent were extracted from the panels; a majority of the embedded soiling was removed and many of the dark stains were reduced in appearance.

The repair and stabilization of the fabrics was an eight month process. All the loose cording was re attached with hand stitching. The loose pieces of silk appliqué were re attached with hand stitching, and holes were ‘patched’ using new silk sateen in a similar color. Shredded silk sateen was realigned and couched with hand stitching. The surface silks were still fragile and the weight of the appliqué pulled on the silk ground cloth. Because the panels had to be strong and stable enough to be hung again for a projected fifty years, the decision was made to encase the most fragile of the panels in protective netting. If the panel was predominantly red, then a marroon netting was laid over the panel and hand stitched around the edges, and throughout all the patterning, following the edges of the applied cording and designs. Red and gold netting overlays were applied to about 40% of the panels. This overlay literally holds the silks in place and prevents loss while vertically hanging. The overlays do create a slight ‘veiling’ of the embroidery details and cast a slight red or gold sheen over those treated panels.

Finally, new cotton sateen linings were hand sewn to the back of each panel and fragment. Two inch wide Velcro machine sewn to three inch wide cotton upholstery tape was hand sewn along every edge of each panel, both horizontal and vertical axis. Four years later, when the house was completely renovated, our team returned to install the fabric panels. The walls, fully repaired, were sealed with a vapor and moisture barrier. Two inch wide thin battens were attached to the wall mirroring where the Velcro was on each panel. Two inch wide Velcro hook was stapled to the walls aligning with each strip of Velcro on each panel. One by one, working around the room, the panels were re attached. Finally, a system of low level LED ‘marquee’ lights were installed above and below the panels. This provides a subtle and safe lighting solution.

These textile panels never revealed a name or date, but their construction was telling about a by-gone era and production, as well as a flamboyant architect and his trusting patron. The Turkish Embassy did a great service restoring not only these unusual textiles, but the entire building.

References:

Atasoy, Nurhan. “Otag-I Humanyan: The Ottoman Imperial Tent Complex, Aygaz”, Istanbul, 2000.
Atasoy, Nurhan. “The Ottoman Tent”, www.turkishculture.org

Stone, Caroline. "Movable Palaces", Saudi Aramco World, July/August 2010, pgs. 36-43

Julia M. Brennan

November 17, 2011

Part One: Conserving the Treasured Wall Fabrics of the Turkish Ballroom 2002-2007

Julia at work in 2004
Julia M. Brennan
ARCA Washington DC Correspondent

Part one

In 2002 the Turkish government launched the renovation of the 1606 23rd Street, NW mansion; every detail both structural and decorative. It took four years. I served on a team consisting of an architect, engineer, designer, curator, conservators and appraisers evaluating the ballroom wall hangings. The main question was how much life remains? Could they be aesthetically and structurally restored to validate the cost of conservation? Discussions included possible replacement with reproduction weavings from high scale design houses, to simulate the overall look but not historic techniques. Another option considered was having new ‘embroideries’ produced in Turkey. (Could that even be done?) Concerns about the structural integrity of the walls to prevent future damage were hammered out. Since the entire mansion was going to have a grand face lift, these textiles had to meet the same aesthetic bar. Otherwise, the inclination was for retirement and replacement with in a newer look, a ‘proven’ longer term wall treatment.

Detail of stains
Nearly 100 years in situ had severely damaged the 515 square feet of wall fabrics. Visible from the floor, about 25% of the fabrics were in severe condition - badly stained, disintegrating, falling apart, and truly disfigured. Huge black stains around window frames marked where the silks were completely rotted. From a cursory examination on ladders, it was evident that the silks and backing fabrics were dry rotted, huge holes proliferated, the stains and encrustations had deteriorated the multiple layers of fabric in areas, the roof and window leaks had leached lime and plaster into the fabric – in short it was going to be a huge challenge!

As a conservator, I truly valued the historic importance of the fabrics. If they were retired, they would never be seen again. It was a long shot that money would be spent to reproduce them accurately. And while not fully proven, I believe they are original to the house and date to circa 1880-1900. In fact, the wall fabrics have not been definitively dated. (No written records were found.) One appraiser in 2002 concluded that they were a mid-century Ottoman style of embroidery and wall covering. While we can conclude that they were installed in situ circa 1914, they could have been cannibalized and cut from earlier 19th century wall coverings from Turkey. Since architect George Totten had lived and worked in Turkey, it is not inconceivable that he purchased these specifically for the ballroom. They are an extraordinary complex technique of appliqué of silk sateen cutouts (think Matisse) on top of contrasting silk sateen ground, with each large motif outlined with a cording that was stitched and glued on. The pattern, an architectural niche containing a tall bulbous ‘vase’ shapes, alternates the red and gold silk, so the eye moves along as if following a series of decorative windows. Within each ‘vase’ or ‘tree of life’ elaborate floral bouquets are embroidered in blues, pinks, yellows and reds. More than 12 genus correct floral bouquets were identified throughout the fabrics. In spite of the blackened stains, holes and losses, the fabrics were definitely worth preserving.

Inserting silk panels
It was also evident that the wall fabrics had previous repairs and restorations. There were many fine elegant stitch repairs, that may date back to the 1800s, depending on the original date of the fabrics. Coarser darnings and glue repairs were obviously later. Laid over most of the panels, and stitched like large billowing pillow-cases, was a dark brown silk crepeline (sheer silk) that was hanging in crispy tatters. This campaign was probably executed in the 1960s or early 1970s, in an effort to hold in place all the falling bits. This technique of ‘overlay’ is still employed by textile conservators. In fact, it was employed in the new 2003 treatment, but with a different material. Silk crepeline is very fragile and usually more short-lived than the artifact. Most 30 year old crepeline treatments have failed, unless they have not been exposed. Unfortunately, no previous treatment documents were available from the Embassy or other partners. My work was entirely deductive.

De-installing panels in 2003
In the initial stages of conservation research, we took down one smaller panel for examination and analysis. This permitted deconstruction and analysis of the entire construction, techniques and fabrics/materials. Some of the panels were hung with curtain rings at 6” intervals. This is similar to the technique used to hang large architectural banners in Turkey and frequently used to hang large textiles and tapestries until the 1970s (until Velcro came onto the market). Traditionally a string was woven through the rings so that the long hangings could be unfurled and hooked up easily. Construction and historic research revealed that the wall coverings are surely related and descended from an earlier Ottoman style of architectural tent hanging. Professor Dr. Nurhan Atasoy has published extensively on Ottoman Imperial Tents. While these hangings are surely not 16th - 18th century, they derive from the tradition of the interior tent decoration, in both design and construction.

Tents were used for military campaigns, state ceremonies, outings, personal ceremonies, daily housing, and of course by tribal groups. The Ottoman army had extensive tents, elaborately decorated to project power, prestige and comfort. The walls of the tents were formed by rectangular textile panels sewn together, and the number of panels depended on the size of the tent. They were crafted to recreate tiled panels in a room or pavilion. (Atasoy) Depending on rank, the tent had various degrees of decoration. Some were richly encrusted, with silks, and sparkling threads and embossed leather.


Atasoy, Nurhan. “Otag-I Humanyan: The Ottoman Imperial Tent Complex, Aygaz”, Istanbul, 2000.
Atasoy, Nurhan. “The Ottoman Tent”, www.turkishculture.org

Part two of this series will resume tomorrow on this blog.

Julia M. Brennan graduated from ARCA's International Art Crime Studies program in 2009.
www.caringfortextiles.com

November 16, 2011

Revisiting the Turkish Residence – The Ballroom’s “Ottoman style” Wall Fabrics

The Turkish Residence
By Julia M. Brennan
ARCA Washington DC Correspondent

This story is not about art theft or repatriation, rather it is a preservation account of a monumental project to conserve part of Turkey’s and Washington D.C.’s shared history.

Recently I had the honor of attending a lecture about the Perge excavations at the Turkish Residence in Washington DC. We gathered in the elegant ballroom, whose walls are covered with sumptuous arabesque and floral red and gold silk textiles. They are not just ‘wall fabric’, but architectural textiles; characterized by two-dimensional niches executed with a syncopation of color, pattern, and rich floral details. People wonder if they are painted, leather, old or new. The whole room radiates from the Ottoman-style wall fabrics. They draw you into a dance around the room, over gilt mirrors and carved doorways, the red and gold niches of red and gold silk vases, with flickers of subtle embroidery. They speak to another era and taste. In 2002, the Turkish Government launched a complete restoration of the mansion – every architectural, structural and decorative detail was addressed. I was given the contract to clean and conserve these fabric treasures. Four years later, when the renovation of the entire mansion was complete, the fabrics were reinstalled, restoring the original Ottoman-style sumptuous character to the ballroom. It was a stunning backdrop to the Perge lecture, and personally very gratifying to see the textiles beautifully restored, as they might have looked in 1914 when they first graced the ballroom.

1606 23rd Street NW was an eccentric and extravagant mansion when it was completed in 1914. Commissioned by Edward H. Everett, a Cleveland millionaire, philanthropist and industrialist, who like many barons, needed a Washington DC base for societal and political reasons. He had interests in oil, beer, and huge glass productions. Everett was the inventor of the ‘crimp’ bottle cap, made famous by Coca Cola. During the Everetts’s residency, their home was the scene for many parties, including musical events in the ballroom, “including singers from the Metropolitan Opera.” (The Sunday Star 9-9-56) His second wife, Grace Burnap, was an amateur opera singer. The house was a gem of The Gilded Age, encrusted with elaborate marquetry and parquet flooring, marble entrance hall, Mannerist paintings, Flemish tapestries, Oriental carpets, a stained glass conservatory, an Otis elevator and the first indoor swimming pool in the city. The 1915 tax assessment was $280,000. (The original building estimated that the cost of building would be $150,000.) No expense was spared.

The architectural design and interior decorations were entrusted to architect George Oakley Totten Jr (1866-1939). His international background and keen interest in architectural ornamentation, produced many lavish Embassy Row homes, combining Oriental and Occidental styles. He designed and built over 16 houses in Washington DC. Totten spent three years at the Ecole des Beaux Arts (1893-1895), lived and worked in Rome, Vienna, Madrid and London, and in 1908 resided in Turkey where he designed the American Chancery and a residence for the Prime Minister. Sultan Abdul Hamid offered him the position of ‘private architect to the Sultan of Turkey’, but the 1909 overthrow of the Sultanate ended that commission. Totten brought to his Washington projects all the elements of his exotic and romantic life, including probably the actual silk wall hangings in the ballroom. No doubt, working for the Sultan, he was exposed to the tradition of ceremonial tent hangings, exquisite Ottoman architectural textiles adorning houses and transitory encampments.

The Ballroom in 2003
In 1932, after the death of Mr. Everett, the Turkish government established their embassy at the Totten ‘palace’. The house was still pristine, and in it’s hey day, a gem of Washington ‘status’ architecture along the Massachusetts Avenue corridor. The Turks acquired the house with all the architectural and decorative décor, “buildings and furnishings” including paintings, fireplaces, wall coverings. Just after the Great Depression, the home was priced to sell. The Honorable Munir Ertegun served as the first Ambassador from the newly formed Republic of Turkey. His sons grew up in this house and in an avant garde musical environment. One of the Ambassador’s sons, Ahmet Ertegun, is known for founding Atlantic Records and signing the Rolling Stones. Given Ahmet’s charisma and love of music, he must have fallen in love with the ballroom with it’s elevated stage, Italianate windows and inset mirrors, gold and blue rinceau-panelled ceiling, carved rinceau double doors, and sumptuous gold and red silk Ottoman walls. It was an over-the-top blend of styles and textures, a perfect place to hold ground breaking jazz concerts hosting Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, and other Washington DC music greats. During the Ertegun period, the grand life of the ballroom continued with a renewed style and sound. In segregated Washington DC, local newspaper society columns at the time gossiped and criticized the frequent flow of ‘Negroes using the front door’ of the residence.

In 1999 the house became the Ambassador’s Residence, and after nearly 100 years it was suffering from both structural and decorative damage.

Reference:
“Massachusetts Avenue Architecture, Volume I”, Issued by The Commission of Fine Arts, Washington D.C. , 1973, pgs. 317-346

The next two blog posts will continue the story with the conservation of the wall fabrics.

Julia M. Brennan

February 25, 2011

Bangkok Post Features Julia Brennan in "Conservation Crusader"


Today [February 24], Bankok Post features an article on ARCA's 2009 Alum Julia Brennan in an article titled "Conservation Crusader."

The article describes Julia's upbringing in Asia and her experience in conserving textiles in Butan and Thailand for more than a decade. It also features a project she recently completed:
"... the conservation of the ceremonial robe presented by King Chulalongkorn to Phraya Cholayuth Yothin, otherwise known as Vice Admiral Andreas du Plessis de Richelieu, a Danish navy officer who became the first and only foreigner to take command of the Royal Thai Navy at the beginning of the 20th century.

The robe had been in the possession of the admiral's grandson, who put it up for auction in 2007. This was when it caught the attention of Anders Normann, the consul general of Denmark in Thailand, who hoped to return the robe to its country of origin."

The article includes an interview with Julia where she describes how to handle the conservation of this robe and the robe's current owner. Fascinating read!
Photo: Robe of Vice Admiral Andreas du Plessis de Richelieu (Bangkok Post)

February 22, 2011

Conservator Riikka Köngäs Tells the Tale of the Stolen Icon of the Mother of God of Kozeltshan and of its Recovery from the Ground

by Riikka Köngäs, Head conservator
Valamo Art Conservation Institute

On June 9, 2010, thieves broke into the Finnish Orthodox Church’s Uspenski Cathedral in Helsinki, the largest Russian Orthodox Church in Western Europe. The alarm went off at 2.16 a.m. By the time security arrived at the cathedral less than 15 minutes later, the thieves were gone, along with one of the spiritual treasures of the Finnish Orthodox Church, the icon of the Mother of God of Kozeltshan and pearls and other jewels worshippers had gratefully draped around the icon in gratitude for answers prayers.

Early in the 20th century, St. John of Kronstadt in St. Petersburg had given this icon of Panagia to a wealthy Russian family in Finland who told them to say a prayer in front of the icon for their daughter’s recovery from an illness. When the miracle of health occurred, the girl’s mother donated the icon to a church and the continued decoration of precious jewels signified additional miracles.

Thieves had also damaged another icon, breaking the protective glass around it, tearing away the decoration made of pearls, throwing them on the floor, and stealing its metal halo with precious stones. Apparently this icon was saved because of its size; it must have been too large for thieves to take with them.

The damaged icon of St. Barbara was brought to me for conservation treatment few days later. Luckily, the damages were not too serious, but the halo was missing.

Police were very doubtful that the icon of Mother of God of Kozeltshan could ever be found, assuming it had been taken away from the country immediately.

In the autumn of 2010, the Uspenski Cathedral had unpleasant visitors again. Due to fast action by the police and security, this time the thieves were caught before they could steal anything. Later, one of these men, a Romanian, was found guilty in the June theft and sentenced to prison for two and half years and required to pay compensation of 180,000 euro. Months later, he decided to confess what he had done with the icon. The police said he must have had a bad conscience, since his confession would not reduce his sentence.

On Monday, February 8, 2011, I received a phone call that nearly threw me off my chair. The police told me confidentially that they knew the location of an icon that had been stolen eight months earlier. They asked for advice on how to treat the icon, since it is likely buried in the ground. I could hardly believe what they told me, advised them on how to handle the icon, and received a promise that they would let me know what happened as soon as possible.

The next day, the police called me again, this time they were on the spot, they had dug in the snow and found the icon in the ground, and asked me what to do next. When I heard that the icon was there without any kind of protection, that picture side was towards the ground, my heart jumped to my throat. What is left from an icon after it has spent six or eight months buried in the ground? I flew immediately to Helsinki to see the icon and to take it to our conservation department.

My first sight of the icon made my hands shake, literally. A very strong smell of wet ground rose from the icon. It was covered with leaves, twigs, sand, and dirt. The icon had become a home for all sorts of insects and worms. What struck me was how the faces seemed to be so clean, almost glowing, in the middle of all that dirt, and how well the icon looked despite its fate.

Two weeks have passed now, and every morning, when I take the icon from the cold storage, where it spends most of its time at the moment, and open the box, I feel the same amazement. The odor of wet dirt still overwhelms me when I open the box. The initial cleaning has been completed, but the most important thing is to wait and have patience to allow the icon to dry. This process takes weeks, if not months, since the drying-process must be very slow so that the wood does not get any more damaged from fast drying. If the wooden ground gets damaged, the paper layer of the painting will get damaged as well. To prevent the icon from drying too fast, the icon is stored in a cold storage, letting it breathe for a couple of hours daily. During these hours I am able to document the icon, and get more knowledge about the damages, and make plans for conservation. Patience is needed at this point, lots of it.

Editor's Note: Readers can look at more photos on Riikka's blog at http://www.valamo.fi/fi/konservointi/konservointiblogi.html.

December 15, 2010

Profile: Noah Charney Interviews Icon Conservator Riika Köngäs


ARCA Founder Noah Charney recently interviewed ARCA Alum Riikka Köngäs, one of Europe’s youngest conservators of icons. She also works for the largest art gallery (Retretti) in Finald as a courier and a conservation specialist. She is Secretary of the Icon-Network Association, an organization providing information about icons, icon collections, education and conservation. One of the objectives of the Icon-Network is to prevent trade of stolen icons by creating a database of stolen icons (www.icon-network.org).

Riikka Köngäs graduated in 2003 with a BA (HONS) Conservation and Restoration of Art and Antiquities from Lincoln University, Great Britain. Specific work experience as an art conservator was acquired from Paliambela Archaeological Excavations in Greece and from the Benaki Museum in Athens, Greece, as well as other museums in Finald. She completed the MA-program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection in 2009. She published her dissertation, "Copy versus Forgery: The Difficulty in Determining Motive with Regards to Modern Iconography and Icon Collections" in the Spring 2010 Journal of Art Crime.

Noah Charney: What sort of conservation work do you do?
Riikka: I work as a head conservator in the Valamo Art Conservation Institute in Finland. We conserve paintings on wood and on canvas and are specialized on icon conservation. Our specialization is unique in Finland and in Scandinavia. We take commissions not only from the Orthodox church, but also other churches in Finland, from museums, insurance companies and works from private sources form perhaps half of our work load. Besides practical conservation, we do condition reporting to exhibitions and different art collections, give advice of preventing conservation and handling of art, and naturally give lectures about art conservation.
We are a small institute, but play a significant role in different European projects, from which the latest is a project called Icon Network. Within this project we set up an exhibition with theme “icons and war”, published a book supporting the theme and currently work partly with web pages to help people who are interested about icons.
Noah Charney: What is the process, when you receive a commission of an icon to restore?
Riikka: Each icon is unique, and there is no straightforward way to restore an icon. Firstly, when talking about icon, we usually think about painting on flat wooden support. But there are icons painted on canvas, as well as on metal, I have even seen one painted on dried fish skull!

Normally our work starts with documentation. We have full-time research photographer working for us, so he photographs the icon, and if necessary, he can take ultraviolet and infrared photos, even x-rays. Then follows written documentation, which we carry on through whole process, writing down every step we do. So called “normal” process includes cleaning, stabilization of paint layer and restoration (painting) only if necessary. Each case has to be considered separately. For example, if an icon is from the museum, we hardly do any restoration at all. But if an icon goes to a church, or at private home, we usually do restoration. It would be rather difficult to concentrate on praying in front of this icon if half of the face was missing!
Noah: You completed the ARCA postgraduate program in 2009. What did the program offer to you?
Riikka: It was terribly interesting, loaded with huge amount of information in short time, and it gave me a push to find out more about certain matters in illicit trade of art, and of icons. It assured me that the more we know about this dark side of art world and the more we educate ourselves, the more we can do to prevent these things happening. Finland is such a small country, but by no means a safe bird nest. The program gave me several ideas what to do next, and very importantly several good connections to turn to if I need advice.
Noah: Tell me about your work since completing the ARCA program.
Riikka: Full speed rollercoaster! I took over the head conservators role after returning to work immediately after the course, and have been settling into that. Besides managing the institute, marketing, finding new projects, traveling around Finland from church to church, giving lectures etc etc, I do practical conservation as much as I can, since that is the part I enjoy tremendously. In June 2010 an icon was stolen from a cathedral in Helsinki, and one icon was damaged badly. I did conservation on this particular icon, and started discussions about the need to secure churches. This continues and hopefully with good results. We set up an exhibition in our monastery and did the security plan for it (using ArtGuard) and now I am planning next exhibitions. The plan is to have an exhibition with fakes and forgeries, co-operating with some museums and police. The process has been started already, and it looks splendid.
Noah: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the conservation world?
Riikka: Worldwide, there are so many challenges and demands to protect cultural heritage…

If I think only about my area of conservation, I almost see red when I meet today’s artists and see their work. I give many lectures trying to make artists understand the importance of good technique; it’s the matter of quality, not quantity. Just take a painting (or even icon) 100 years old, and it still looks more or less top quality. Whereas we are getting more and more badly prepared canvases or panels only 10-20 years old and already damaged. Education, education, that is the word!
Noah: There has been a recent debate about how much cleaning should be done on Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece. Would you like to comment?
Riikka: I am not very familiar with this case, but general rule I try to follow as much as I can is "less is more”, as I guess every conservator thinks. Making sure that piece of art will be there for next generations is the most important, not restoring it so that it looks like new. And this doesn’t mean treating the object only; it includes taking care of the surroundings as well. Cleaning is always a bit risky, especially when using detergents or solvents or new methods that haven’t been in use for long.

December 3, 2010

Renowned Art Conservator Julia Brennan discusses her adventures in conservation and the ARCA Postgraduate Program in the Study of Art Crime


Julia Brennan is a renowned art conservator specializing in textiles. In an interview with Noah Charney, Julia discusses her international adventures in conservation, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in the Study of Art Crime, and the cleaning of The Ghent Altarpiece.
Read more at Suite101: Renowned Conservator Discusses Art, Art Crime, and Van Eyck http://www.suite101.com/content/renowned-conservator-discusses-art-art-crime-and-van-eyck-a316311#ixzz173Y2vP4B